Alexander on Education: “What Would Lincoln Do?”

Calls for a “Lincoln Approach: Conferring Opportunities,” to Replace Today’s “Command-and-Control” K-12 Model

Posted on April 27, 2009

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today made the following remarks on the proper federal role in K-12 education, as a participant in a GOP debate on the issue, held at and hosted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-S. Carolina) and U.S. Representative Mike Castle (R-Dela.) participated in the debate moderated by Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. To “empower parents to be better parents,” Senator Alexander said, the federal government must (full speech transcript available upon request): • Support Pell Grants for Kids: “Give every middle- and lower-income child $500 to spend after school at any state-approved education program. This would help fund music and art, English, or other catch-up and get-ahead lessons. It would pour billions into poorer school districts, perhaps encouraging public schools to get busy and attract students by offering the after-school lessons themselves.” • Support perinatal care: “Make sure pregnant mothers receive care from before their pregnancy until six weeks after. That would be the real head start.” • Encourage nurses in homes: “Encourage nurses to visit homes to make sure every newly born child has all the medical and non-medical services they need.” • Support home schooling: “Never hinder home schooling; we must instead look for ways to help. Why punish parents who are doing their job well?” • Help adults learn English: “There are lines of new Americans outside federally funded programs to help adults learn English. Encouraging our common language is a federal role, and if the parents speak English, the child is more likely to speak it better.” • Encourage worksite daycare: “With so many parents working outside the home, there is less time for the child. One solution is worksite daycare near the place where the parent works. This is usually a private sector solution, but assistance for low-income parents makes sense.” “To help teachers and school leaders be better,” continued Senator Alexander, the federal government should: • Support paying good teachers more: “Every child benefits from exceptional teaching. Now that we know how to relate student achievement to the skills of a teacher or group of teachers, we should pay teachers for their superior skills. Expand the Teacher’s Incentive Fund to help local school districts reward outstanding teaching. As Albert Shanker said, ‘If you can have master plumbers, why not master teachers?’” • Encourage charter schools: “Liberating teachers and school leaders to use their own good judgment to help the children assigned to them ….” • Support Teach for America: “Supply new, raw talent to the classroom and form an alumni corps of support for excellence in public schools.” • Support teachers colleges: “Award peer-reviewed, competitive research grants on the agendas most of them won’t touch: how to give parents more choices, how to reward outstanding teaching, how to make charter schools successful, and how to help newly arrived children learn English.” • Fund more programs like UTeach at the University of Texas: “The America COMPETES Act funds scholarships at universities for good students in math and science who will switch to teaching.” • Expand summer academies: “Expand summer academies for outstanding teachers of U.S. History as well as the sciences. These are inexpensive and enriching.” • Train school leaders: “The biggest bang for the buck is training school leaders. Again, expand the Teacher Incentive Program and the New Leaders for New Schools program.” • Set higher standards and improve data collection: “Set by states or groups of states, so teachers, as well as parents, can know what is expected.”